“Greg, hope the campaign is going ok.
I'm so upset with social media today regarding the death of the one year old girl at poplar yesterday. I feel a connection to that community as lived there from 1974-1999.
Not one comment offered any positive in site to why all these problems on this reservation continue to happen. I left there because I watched as the town died with each new democratic poverty program and the Native Americans suffered more.
But they kept buying into the Democratic parties lies and to this day will vote I'm guessing high 90 per cent demo.
Do you have any insight why Native Americans continue to vote this way? I thought maybe with your history background you could gave me a feel why.”
I received that email last Thursday from a man living in rural Montana.
What spurred that email was the story from last Wednesday, April 20, about a 1-Year-Old Girl Found Dead on Montana Indian Reservation.
ABC National had that story via the AP, probably because the story was so gruesome they knew they could get some hits on it, and thus advertising revenue.
For the most part, the little girl named Kenzley Olson “was abducted from her home” in Poplar on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
More than 10,000 people live on the reservation, mostly Sioux and Assiniboine Indians.
One of them is Peter Dupree, who lived next door to Kenzley and watched as local and federal investigators “looked through trash bins in the alleys that run behind her house.”
Here’s a bit more from Dupree and the AP:
"It's so sad. It's almost crying time. This is a baby who was probably crawling and everything else," he said.
He added that crimes appeared to be on the rise as methamphetamine use on the reservation became more conspicuous over the past several years.
"I really think it's getting worse. It's not getting better," Dupree said. "The law and order has to step up to the plate."
Investigators found Kenzley's body the same afternoon that she went missing.
We learned the next day that a 42-year-old woman named Johnelle Red Dog had been arrested for the abduction.
Apparently, Red Dog “punched the girl several times and realized she had killed her.” At that point Red Dog “stuffed” Kenzley's body “in a duffel bag before leaving it in the garbage.”
It’s not clear how authorities discovered Red Dog was involved – it was Red Dog’s map that pointed them to the body – or how Red Dog is related to Kenzley or her family.
What we do know is that crimes like this aren’t new.
You might remember the 4-year-old girl that was kidnapped from a park in Wolf Point, also on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
That happened in February and they found the girl “several days later about six miles from the park. It’s clear that the 20-year-old man that abducted her tried to kill her as he faces attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault of a minor.
What’s going on?
To answer that, we might have to go back and look at the problem from its beginning.
A History of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation
Because of that, it comes in as the ninth-largest Indian reservation in the country. The city of Wolf Point, with its 2,600 people, is the reservation’s largest urban area.
The reservation was created in 1878 and crammed into it were the Indians that’d defeated Custer two years earlier but had ultimately lost the Great Sioux War. So they were shunted off to the reservation, the same as the other half of the tribe that’d lost Red Cloud’s War a decade earlier.
Things went south fast. In 1881 the buffalo vanished from the area and two years later more than 300 Indians starved to death. The Dawes Act came in 1887 to try and give better management to the area. By about 1900, however, Congress opened up the reservation areas to white homesteaders.
The honyockers and clipper-bills had arrived, and they’d stay for about a decade, perhaps two, trying their hand in the land before heading off again from wherever they’d come.
In 1908 Congress passed the Fort Peck Allotment Act, something that surveyed the Indian lands and doled out 320 acres to each eligible Indian. Most of it was grazing land but some was timberland and some even had irrigation on it.
By 1913, 1.3 million acres of this land was still unalloted so it was made available to whites. By the 1920s the government boarding schools that’d been started up in 1877 were closed. Missionary schools run by Mormons or Presbyterians typically replaced these.
In 1927 the Fort Peck tribes wrote their own constitution and kept it when the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 tried to take it away from them. They amended it in 1952 and rewrote it in 1960 and it’s been about the same ever since.
Poverty on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation
- In 1990 the poverty rate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation was 31.6% and that rose to 35.3% by the year 2000.
- In 2005 the reservation had an unemployment rate of 53.5%, higher than the average unemployment of 51.6% that Montana Indian reservations typically see. In fact, in 2005 1,544 people on the reservation were working, less than the 1,778 that were not.
- In 2007 the number of reservation children that were eligible for free and reduced school lunches was 77% and in 2010 that rose to 83%.
- From 2003 to 2009 the use of the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, or LIEAP, rose by 106%. All other Montana reservations saw increases of just 30%.
- In 2000, 52% of the reservation’s households earned less than $25,000 a year. The state average is 37%.
Those are some very troubling numbers.
What do they mean in human terms?
The Herald-News had an article several years ago that got into that. Here’s an excerpt:
“Ed Plentz, the co-founder for the Love Has No Color program, which has worked consistently with the Fort Peck Indian Reservation for seven years to develop a chiropractic clinic in the area, said a cycle of despair contributed to the poverty on the reservation.
He stated when he first started delivering Christmas gifts to children on Fort Peck seven years ago, high school students were uninterested and nearly indignant about accepting the program’s gifts.
When he handed out gifts this year to the now-high school students who were only eight when the project began, he noticed a marked difference. The high school students had built a relationship with him and his team and a mutual trust had developed. Plentz said throwing money at a problem like poverty won’t fix it, but rather cited compassion, consistency and love.
Of course, those elements won’t fix the problem alone. It won’t happen by one person’s hand or overnight. Like most sicknesses in society, it will either be treated slowly over the course of generations or fester into something worse.”
The article goes on to speculate on the causes of poverty on the reservation, and what can be done about it.
He points out a 2011 Forbes Article that said “lack of property rights on reservations contributed to the high poverty rates.” Another argument is that “the isolated locations of reservations lack lucrative economic opportunities.”
Floyd Azure, the Fort Peck Tribal Chairman at the time, had this to say:
“The two factors that can change things for the better are diverse job opportunities and improved access to healthcare. We are working on both of these as well as quality housing and law enforcement to help everyone living in our community.”
Some think that oil is the answer, and in 2013 the Fort Peck Indian Reservation was churning out 1,100 barrels a day from 10 tribal wells and many more that are privately owned.
Despite this, much of the population remains in poverty. They lose hope as incomes drop, more hope as they wonder where they’ll live. Existing housing options are exhausted.
Reservation Housing is Deplorable
On April 9 the Flathead Beacon had a story up called Tribes Struggle with Decades of Housing Neglect.
The story primarily focuses on the city of Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which is located 400 miles to the west of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
We’re told that 40% of “on-reservation housing” is “considered substandard.” Compare that to the 6% of non-reservation homes that meet that designation.
The article depicts reservation housing with multiple family members staying one room. “It’s no unusual to find a grandma who has 15 people in her home,” the director of the Blackfeet Housing Authority said.
Because so many are in homes meant for just a few people, everything experiences wear and tear more. “Doors and cupboards designed to be opened and closed perhaps a dozen times a day may see 1,000 uses in a single week,” we’re told. “The major appliances, flooring, carpets, plumbing and fixtures all get worn down and worn out.”
The outside of the homes isn’t much better, and may be worse:
“Empty, weed-filled lots separate the scattered mix of old trailer homes and wood frame houses. To keep the constant Rocky Mountain winds from peeling their roofs away, residents pile discarded tires atop their trailer homes. Boarded windows, missing shingles and torn siding offer poor protection from the frigid Montana winters. Stray dogs rummage through drifts of trash piled against scrap lumber fences.”
Those same conditions exist on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, as was made quite clear in a 2013 article by the Make it Right project, a group that goes in and builds homes for people.
Here’s what they said:
“Touring the Fort Peck Reservation neighborhoods in Poplar, Montana, we are immediately struck by the poverty and the need for healthy homes. Some people live in shoddy, substandard public housing. Others live in trailers with tires piled on top to hold the roof down in high winds.
Hundreds of people are on a waiting list for the poor quality homes that exist. We hear stories from people who have nine families living in a five bedroom home and take “sleeping shifts” to share the limited beds. Most homes are smaller, one or two bedrooms. We meet a woman who shares a two bedroom home with her elderly mother and her brother’s family – she and her three children sleep on the floor in the living room.”
Suicides on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation
“The rash of suicides in Poplar shocked the community and prompted the U.S. Public Health Service to send emergency teams to provide counseling and mental health services Fort Peck last June.
More than 100 people, including some parents and relatives of suicide victims, attended the Tuesday afternoon hearing in the Poplar High School auditorium.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, presiding over the hearing, said the youth suicide rate on the Fort Peck Reservation that is 10 times the national average is unacceptable and has largely been overlooked.”
One of the students that killed themselves was 17-year-old Dalton Gourneau. He was suspended from school “and sent home for bringing a can of chewing tobacco to school. He shot himself that evening.”
Fanci Jackson, a 16-year-old student at that time, decided not to hang “herself with a rope when she felt she couldn’t take any more bullying at school.” Her reason? “I thought of my mom and dad and how much they love me,” she said, in tears. “And if I leave, what would they do without me? But most kids don’t think.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Indians, the first being heart disease. The Herald-News tells us that:
“Tribal leaders have worked with representatives from the Montana Office of Public Instruction to strengthen the delivery of mental health support to youth and families on the reservation. The adopted “wraparound” process focuses on developing family-centered teams and plans throughout the reservation-wide school systems to connect students with resources within their own cultural framework. Key elements for success include engaging students and families and teachers, with effective interventions and monitoring.”
For the 90 days that the federal teams were on the reservation, there were no suicides.
Despite that, and despite suicides coming down in recent years, the Fort Peck Indian Reservation has the most suicides of any reservation in Montana, with 82 deaths per 100,000. The second highest is the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation with 64 deaths per 100,000 people.
The Lies Indians Get from Democrats
“The town died with each new democratic poverty program and the Native Americans suffered more. But they kept buying into the Democratic parties lies and to this day will vote I'm guessing high 90 per cent demo.
Do you have any insight why Native Americans continue to vote this way?”
Let’s get back to the email I received last week, and the reason I titled this post the way I did.
Montana Democrats are not helping Indians.
More, I feel Montana Democrats are lying to Indians, saying their lives will get better when we know full well from history that this simply will not happen.
Despite this, Montana’s Indians continue to vote for Democrats.
Or do they?
We know in 2012 that 46% of Montana white households returned an absentee ballot. Just 18% of Indian households did. Worse, many Indians have to drive a hundred miles to vote.
In 2014 Huffington Post had a story up called Does the Democratic Party Have an Indian Problem?
We learned that the Northern Cheyenne Tribe “met with Montana Democratic Party leadership” to ask “for support from Democrats for satellite registration and voting offices on reservations.”
They were unsuccessful in getting what they wanted. That’s a shame, as they’d been asking for the right to vote since 2012.
Secretary of State Linda McCulloch argued that “she can’t order the offices opened,” thus effectively forcing Indians that want to vote to drive “round trips as long as 180 miles across rugged terrain.”
The Montana Democratic Party opposed and “led the charge against the lawsuit” that the state’s Indians brought forth so they could get those voting offices opened.
It’s not clear why exactly the Montana Democrats wanted to restrict voting access to Indians, as the article makes clear:
“Keeping voting inconvenient for minority groups is a common GOP ploy. However, it’s a peculiar philosophical choice for the party of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama. Nor is it legal, according the Justice Department.
And for Democrats, it’s hardly strategic. Montana’s Native Americans make up 6.5 percent of the state’s population and register overwhelmingly Democratic — more than 90 percent on some reservations — in a state of hard-fought elections and razor-thin margins. Montana’s Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester has credited his one-percent 2012 win to Native voters.”
Linda McCulloch reversed herself in October 2015, saying she now thought voting offices were a good idea.
Despite this, many claimed in March 2016 that those offices were unequal. The reason was simple – the offices would not be open on primary election day or the general election day.
This seems strange, that Montana Democrats would try and restrict voting for Indians. After all, most of the times Montana Democrats have to go up to the reservations to get the vote out. They clearly want Indians to vote as they try to convince them to vote!
Some might wonder why Indians don’t vote for Republicans but I feel it’s the same reason gay people don’t – the GOP has made it abundantly clear that it hates them.
We know the Montana Republican Party has nothing but racist attitudes toward the Indians of this state.
That helps Democrats, big time.
No, it doesn’t mean they’ll get those Indian votes – we see the abysmal turnout numbers, proving that Indians do not care about the Montana Democratic message – but it does mean they don’t have to do anything to help Indians.
If the Indians aren’t going to vote Republican then all they can do is not vote, vote third-party, or go with the Democrats.
Democrats in Montana know this and that’s why nothing on reservations ever changes for the better. Democrats just need to offer lip-service to the Indians, for the worst that’ll happen is that the Indians will stay home and not vote (third-party votes help the Democrats).
So it’s a vicious cycle every two to four years where Democrats head on up to the reservations in groups, give their little song and dance, and then pat themselves on the back, proud that they ‘did something’ for the less well-off in the state.
Meanwhile, Indian poverty rates go up and the young people of the tribes continue to kill themselves…either quickly with guns or slowly with drugs and alcohol.
I don’t see that changing anytime soon, do you?
That’s why I say our Montana Democratic Party is lying to Indians.
The tell the poor people that their lives will get better when we know that will never happen.
It’s sad, because it doesn’t matter if the Indians of Montana vote Democratic or GOP, their lives will continue to get worse.
I don’t know what to do about this. All I can do is talk about it, point out the problem.
Far from being thanked for this, I’ll be ignored, or if I decide to press it, attacked.
Yes, the Montana Democratic Party will actually attack me because I want to make the lives of Indians better. To them, pointing out their decades of failure to help Indians is a bad thing.
Nope, I don’t expect we’ll see life improve on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
I do expect we’ll continue to read stories about missing babies and toddlers, sometimes with their bodies being found in dumpsters.
In Montana, that’s how we want it.